In response to a legislative committee decision in confirmation of its recent support of a bill allowing abortion in case of rape or fetal deformity, thousands of pro- and anti-abortion demonstrators squared off outside Congress on Tuesday in Peru.
The panel voted October 7 to send the bill to Congress for debate, but strong opposition by the Roman Catholic Church and Defense Minister Rafael Rey, who says he will resign if the bill is approved, prompted a "technical" review of the measure.
The bill would expand a 1924 law, which allows abortion only when the expectant mother's health or life are in jeopardy, to include rape and fetal deformity.
Spearheaded by Peruvian Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, who calls the measure a "death penalty" for the innocent, the church has openly lobbied lawmakers to drop the proposed legislation.
As the congressional panel deliberated, thousands of people, including priests, nuns and schoolchildren on both sides of the abortion issue squared off outside the congressional building, shouting insults, slogans and waving scores of banners.
"Get your rosary out of my ovaries," one group of women was heard shouting at a group of nuns who were praying in the street.
With the panel's approval, the abortion bill now heads for debate in Congress at a date yet to be determined.
If the abortion bill is passed, Peru would join a small group of Latin American nations that allow abortion only in cases of rape or to save the life of the expectant mother.
An Ipsos-Apoyo poll released Sunday found a slight majority of Peru's population of 29 million are against the abortion bill.
Women's groups said some 376,000 illegal abortions are performed in Peru each year, and that 22 percent of women in Lima are sexual abuse victims.